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Tavish Scott

Willie Rennie MSP <em>Picture: Scottish parliament</em>

Willie Rennie MSP Picture: Scottish parliament

It didn’t take the Scottish Liberal Democrats long to find a new leader. Less than two weeks have gone by since the resignation of Tavish Scott following the party’s disastrous showing in the Scottish elections, yet today Willie Rennie was appointed as his replacement.

But that short timescale was fairly inevitable given that the parliamentary party was reduced to a rump of five. A contest drawing in almost half of the party’s MSPs would have seemed a little eccentric, so Mr Rennie emerged as the uncontested choice as leader.

It does seem that, as Margaret Thatcher once remarked about Willie Whitelaw, “Everyone needs a Willie” – although, as one member of the press pack at Holyrood added with reference to the Lib Dems yesterday, “Perhaps some balls wouldn’t harm, either.”

A former backroom fixer of the party – he was chief executive of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and chief of staff for the party at Holyrood – Mr Rennie is now stepping into the limelight. The regional list MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife certainly knows the party, but what his activists will want to know is that he can revive its fortunes as well.

A 43-year-old father of two, Mr Rennie has an unlikely claim to fame in that he was once runner-up in the annual Scottish coal-carrying championships.

He has a background in PR and has already been an MP, winning the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election for the Liberal Democrats in 2006 but losing the seat in 2010.

Mr Rennie accepted the appointment at North Queensferry, with one of the party’s oldest members and one of the youngest.

“I’m delighted to be the new leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats,” Mr Rennie said. “We need to reflect on the disappointment of the Scottish parliament election results and move on and up. I’m here today with Jimmy Gordon and Neil Alexander. Two of our oldest and youngest members. I want to connect with the party at all levels.

“Scotland needs a strong Liberal voice at all levels of government. And I am determined to see that strong Liberal voice flourish.

“I will be working with my colleagues in the Scottish parliament to stand up to the SNP bulldozer. We will not sit on our hands in the face of an SNP majority – we will be that Liberal voice standing up for the values that Scotland holds dear.

“Scotland needs us to stand up for local services, for long-term solutions and for making our country a place that finds opportunities for aspirational Scots.”

Scottish secretary and Liberal Democrat MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, Michael Moore, added: “This is great news. Willie will be a first-class leader for the Scottish Liberal Democrats. Willie and I have worked together for many years. His energy, integrity and commitment make him the right person to lead our party in Scotland.

“As an experienced politician and a veteran campaigner, he is ideally placed to promote our values in the new Scottish parliament and throughout Scotland too.”

Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie said: “I congratulate Willie Rennie on his appointment as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

“He is a well-respected individual across the political divide and it is good for Scottish politics that he has made the journey from Westminster to Holyrood. Welcome to the hurley burley of political leadership, Willie!”

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray added: “I would like to congratulate Willie Rennie on taking over from Tavish Scott as leader. Willie is well respected by members of all parties and brings extensive experience as a former MP, chief executive of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and as the party’s chief of staff. I look forward to working together with him in parliament in areas where we share common ground such as job creation and eradicating youth unemployment.”

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Tricia Marwick MSP <em>Picture: Scottish Parliament</em>

Tricia Marwick MSP Picture: Scottish Parliament

To say that Labour MSPs were unhappy with the result of the presiding officer’s election would be a serious understatement. Most were unwilling to go public because they knew it would seem churlish, but a good number were spitting fire over Tricia Marwick’s victory.

This Labour antagonism was not directed at Ms Marwick herself. She is a well-liked and well-respected MSP – across all sides of the chamber. The anger was directed first at the SNP and secondly (although they wouldn’t like to acknowledge it) at their own impotence.

Labour’s anti-SNP grumbles were based around the convention that the presiding officer’s job is shared around between the parties. Labour is the only major party not to have provided a presiding officer – the previous incumbents having been David Steel (who came from the Liberal Democrat benches), George Reid (SNP) and Alex Fergusson (Conservative) – and, on that basis, this was Labour’s turn.

There was also the distinct feeling in Labour ranks that it is somehow undemocratic for one party to control the votes so completely as the SNP will now do, and also control the chamber.

At the heart of this controversy over the election of the presiding officer is the unstated implication, therefore, that Ms Marwick will favour the SNP in any tricky decisions she has to make.

That is certainly debatable. Anybody who has played football with a referee picked from their own side will know that it often works the other way: arbiters are frequently harsher on their own side just to prove they are not prejudiced, and this may be what Ms Marwick ends up doing.

What this really does seem to be about, then, is not the fear that Ms Marwick will be biased, but the realisation that, as opposition MSPs, there is nothing Labour – or the Tories, or the Lib Dems – can do about it.

If the combined forces of Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green MSPs could do nothing about the election of the presiding officer in what was supposed to be an unwhipped secret ballot, how more powerless will they be when it comes to real pieces of legislation and formal votes?

Labour MSPs could huff and puff and mutter about the unfairness of the presiding officer vote, but they couldn’t do anything to change it. They are going to have to get used to that, though, because if they get worked up every time the SNP railroad something through parliament, they’ll have blown their blood pressures before the summer recess.

Ms Marwick is a feisty, strong-minded and experienced MSP – this will be her fourth term at Holyrood, having won the Mid Fife and Glenrothes seat with a 4,188 majority and 52.3 per cent of the vote on 5 May. She will certainly bring a different feel to the job than the three men who preceded her. She is not much of a monarchist (she made it clear earlier this year she would not be watching the royal wedding), so will probably adopt a less deferential role when showing the royals round the parliament.

Would Labour’s Hugh Henry have done a better job? Possibly, but it’s impossible to say. What about Tavish Scott or Annabel Goldie? Possibly – but, again, that is now hypothetical.

What is not hypothetical is that an SNP MSP is now in the chair at Holyrood while her party enjoys a clear majority in the chamber, the first time this has happened.

Ms Marwick’s appointment was not really about bias, or prejudice, or democracy. It was a reflection of the SNP’s unchallengeable power at Holyrood – but also of the powerlessness of the opposition.

This is a theme which everybody in politics, including the opposition MSPs at Holyrood, will have to get used to – and soon.

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Annabel Goldie <em>Picture: Wsdouglas</em>

Annabel Goldie Picture: Wsdouglas

Annabel Goldie became the third leadership casualty of this election this afternoon when she announced she was standing down as Scottish Conservative leader.

Miss Goldie is due to face a contest for the leadership later this year as a result of party reforms agreed last year.

Today she issued a statement announcing that she would not be seeking re-election as Scottish Conservative leader.

Her departure follows that of Iain Gray, as leader of the Scottish Labour Party and Tavish Scott as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Miss Goldie’s decision to stand down paves the way for her deputy, Murdo Fraser, to go for the leadership of the party. He may, though, be challenged by fellow MSP Gavin Brown.

Miss Goldie said: “The Scottish election result was seismic. Nobody, not even Alex Salmond, thought that the SNP would win an overall majority at Holyrood.

“I am of course disappointed that the Conservatives are returning to the parliament with two fewer MSPs than last time, but I am heartened by the observations of many independent commentators that our result was, by comparison to the other opposition parties, credible.”

And she added: “For the opposition parties, we will all have to adjust to the new realities. It will be a test of our mettle and resolve to be an effective opposition. We must remember that although the SNP has a majority of seats, it did not win a majority of votes, and has a minority of support for independence.

“For me, and for my party, we will play our part. Now the election is over, the implementation of the 2011 review into our structures can be completed. In particular I understand that the new leadership structures will be in place by the autumn.

“I am an enthusiastic backer of the new plans – including the call for the party to have one overall leader in Scotland. It is likely that the first election under these new rules will take place later this year.

“I believe that the time has come for the torch to pass and I can confirm that I will not be a candidate. There are four years until the next UK general election, and five years until the next Holyrood contest. I want my successor to have the maximum time for him or her to shape the Party and its policies and to lead the opposition at Holyrood.

“For the sake of clarity, I will remain as leader of the MSP group until my successor takes over, and I will of course remain as an MSP for the duration of the parliament.”

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Tavish Scott <em>Picture: Keith Edkins</em>

Tavish Scott Picture: Keith Edkins

By James Browne
Tavish Scott today announced his resignation as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Mr Scott is understood to be “devastated” by the losses suffered by his party in Thursday’s election and he has decided to take full responsibility himself by standing down.

Mr Scott endured a very hard time during the campaign, having to defend the record of his party in the coalition government time and again – despite his clear discomfort in doing so.

Mr Scott did distance himself from the coalition government at Westminster towards the end of the campaign – but, by then, it was too late to make much of a difference.

His party, which went into the election with 16 MSPs, lost 11 of them, including all of its constituencies in mainland Scotland. It kept only Orkney and Shetland, with the other three MSPs elected through the party lists.

Mr Scott is understood to be angry that he and his party north of the border have been made to suffer for the actions of a government in Westminster which he has nothing to do with.

A new leader will emerge from the four other Scottish Lib Dem MSPs: Liam McArthur, Willie Rennie, Alison McInnes and Jim Hume.

Although he has not been an MSP before, Mr Rennie (elected as a list MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife) is favourite to succeed Mr Scott because he has long been a key Lib Dem strategist and was an MP at Westminster before losing his seat last year.

Liam McArthur, MSP for Orkney, is another who may well go for the leadership. But, given the small size of the parliamentary party – it could travel to Holyrood in the back of a taxi – it is not as satisfying or as powerful a post as it once was.

What the leader will have to do, however, is revive the party’s fortunes north of the border – and, with the Scottish Lib Dems at their lowest ebb for two decades, that may take a great deal of work.

Mr Scott said: “I want to announce that I am resigning the leadership of the Scottish Liberal Democrats with immediate effect. Thursday’s Scottish General Election result was disastrous and I must and do take responsibility for the verdict of the electorate.

“The party needs a new direction, new thinking and new leadership to win back the trust of the Scottish people. I am honoured to serve as Shetland’s MSP in this Parliament.”

Responding to news of Mr Scott’s departure, Alex Salmond said: “I have led campaigns that were unsuccessful in the past so I know it’s extremely difficult for leaders in that position but there’s no personal acrimony.”

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<em>Picture: Kyle Flood</em>

Picture: Kyle Flood

Just before 5:30pm on the day after polling day, as the first minister’s helicopter touched down on the lawn at Prestonfield House, “Edinburgh’s most luxurious and charming five star hotel”, the TV coverage picked up the repeated, raucous call of a peacock, lurking somewhere just off-camera.

The peacock is regarded by some as an unlucky omen – but this felt like a far from unlucky day for Alex Salmond. There was a lengthy, TV-director-annoying delay while the helicopter rotors gently idled and the man of the moment waited and waited in the cabin. Perhaps he was fine-tuning his notes for the speech he was about to give, perhaps he was having a snack or a snooze – it must have been a long and adrenalin-pumped night and day – or perhaps he was pinching himself and having a quiet mental recount. Had 69 out of the available 129 Holyrood seats really just come his party’s way?

Yes they had, and the MSP for Aberdeenshire East eventually emerged on to the lawn to give a fine, soundbite-ish speech (“a majority of the seats, but not a monopoly on wisdom … a victory for a society and a nation”). He did look tired, and lacked some of his usual bounce and spark – but that was understandable, and his work, at least until his sleep patterns had been restored, was done.

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For those watching and listening from the sidelines, it had been a monumental day in Scottish and possibly UK political terms. The biggest upheaval (and a landslide, almost by geological definition, is an upheaval) since that bright Blairite morning in May 1997. And it was arguably even more upheavalesque than that, as seeing the SNP sweep to clear power under a system designed to prevent majorities, let alone landslides, was extraordinary.

The key moments might not have been of the “did you stay up for Portillo?” type, but were destined to remain in the memory nonetheless. It was not so much the perfect storm, more the perfect squeeze, with a whole series of factors – Labour complacency, Lib Dem coalition chaos, even perhaps a royal wedding backlash – combining to funnel a seemingly endless supply of ballot papers down the SNP’s pipeline.

Where to start? Surely with the steady bulldozing of the Glasgow monolith, where five of the eight constituencies switched from Labour to SNP. Few could have genuinely expected that – two or three snatched seats, maybe, but not the Nats going nap. For anyone who has ever lived and worked in the nearest thing in Britain to a one-party city-state, it will have had a profound effect.

Amid the collapse, there was the amusing irony of Iain Gray, leader of the Subway Sect, holding on to his East Lothian seat while all his would-be successors – McAveety, Gordon, Whitton, Kerr – lost theirs.

Also impressive was the consolidation of the SNP’s hold over the middle part of the central belt – Stirling, Ochil, Falkirk etc. Much of it already nationalist in inclination, and already patchily so in parliamentary terms, but now a smooth yellow-and-black swathe.

Then – and pivotal to much that happened – there was the plight of the Liberal Democrats. Ousted from every mainland constituency, the party was left with little more than the offshore assets of Liam McArthur and Tavish Scott.

The latter has seemed pitiful – in pretty much every sense of the word – throughout the campaign, having been thrown the political equivalent of a hospital pass by his Westminster leader, then having to endure a turkey-shoot Newsnicht grilling by Gordon Brewer. (By the end of this, the beleaguered Shetlander was shrugging his shoulders, rolling his eyes and visibly resigning himself and his party to the fates.)

Oddly, however, for all the SNP’s wholesale hoovering-up of Lib Dem votes, Holyrood 2011 might prove to be the start of their eventual (and substantial) comeback. The near-wipeout, allied to defeat in the AV referendum, could lead to a rapid disintegration of the Clegg–Cameron poshboy lovefest.

The Lib Dems will take another massive hit at the next UK election, for sure – but that day of catharsis looks closer than it was. Then, with a more old-style leftish leader installed (Chris Huhne looks increasingly well-placed), they should steadily regain lost ground. It will, however, take time and tears.

In psephological terms, perhaps the most extraordinary moment of SNP triumph came with their obtaining not just all the constituency seats in the north-east, but also another top-up MSP via the regional list. This genuinely shocked the BBC radio pundit who, shortly before the announcement, had said that such a situation was “impossible” – and it also shocked the elected member himself, Mark McDonald. He was so sure of not making it to Holyrood that he turned up at the count in what might at Prestonfield be termed “casual wear”. No one appeared to mind – and anyway, by then, everyone was so politically agasp that fashion sense was hardly a concern.

At the end, when Keith Brown won his curiously shaped Clackmannanshire and Dunblane seat and thus became the 65th and majority-winning SNP MSP, there was a Ryder Cup feel to proceedings. Brown acquired the status of Philip Walton, Paul McGinley and Graeme McDowell: golfers feted for having picked up the winning point for their team, even though it needed all the other points – or, in this case, seats – every bit as much.

Perhaps that’s what the first minister was doing as he dallied in his helicopter on the fairway-like lawn at Prestonfield: looking around for a trophy to hold aloft as he emerged to meet the cameras. He didn’t need one, however – not for his long-term supporters, and not for the great many floaters and waiverers who have, for now at least, put their faith in him and his party. There is, instead, a much bigger, much more gleaming prize on offer.

While some view any form of UK breakup with wariness, even horror, and while some argue that the other great city-state – London – is already another country, there are undoubtedly many now excited by the thought that traditional, Scotland-breaking-away independence is a lot nearer than they ever felt it could be.

Much remains to be done in terms of arranging the process and asking the people – who might then say no. But the impetus, enthusiasm and energy appear to be there, for now at least. So if that noisy Edinburgh peacock proves unlucky for anyone, it surely won’t be for Alexander Elliot Anderson Salmond and the party that he has, whatever one’s views, led to a great and mightily impressive victory.

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The Caledonian Mercury has invited some of those in the election firing-line to send regular bulletins about the personal side of campaigning. Alison Hay is the Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate for Argyll and Bute.

    Monday 25 April
    Disaster! My campaign manager has strained a tendon doing DIY at the weekend and will have to rest his foot for a few days, My husband John has gallantly stepped into the breach and will help me with leaflet delivery over the next couple of days, so I’m back on the campaign trail after having a rest on Sunday afternoon.

    We’re on Lismore this afternoon with my husband driving. Mixed reactions, with ferries and roads the main issues.

    Tuesday 26 April
    Today it has been agreed that we meet at Cairndow Oyster Bar which is about 30 minutes from where I live. Argyll and Bute’s MP Alan Reid is joining John and me to deliver leaflets in Cairndow, Strachur, St Catherines, Tighnabruaich and Kames on the Cowal peninsula. Again, the weather is wonderful and I’m beginning to develop a tan. Campaigning is great in weather like this.

    This evening is the Dunoon hustings and I’m not looking forward to it. Mike Russell and the SNP are in difficult water! They promised the Dunoon residents two new boats in exchange for votes, in 2007. They have failed to deliver and the Dunoon/Gourock ferry service will become passenger-only from the end of June. Dunoon residents are not best pleased.

    Wednesday 27 April
    The time is 9am and I’m in Connel near Oban. Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott is paying a visit to Connel post office to promote our support for rural post offices. The owner is Rosie Stevenson. She has diversified her post office into a grocer’s shop.

    She opens early to provide filled rolls, papers, etc to the workmen on their way to work. She is very happy with the progress she is making and is happy with the help she has had from Alan Reid.

    Also with us this morning is George Lyon MEP, the Scottish Liberal Democrat campaign manager. A happy time was spent talking to the press and drinking tea supplied by Rosie. We leave about 10am and head down towards Kennacraig to catch the 1pm ferry to the island of Islay. My campaign manager Tony is back, hobbling, assuring me he is better but I’m sceptical.

    We spend the afternoon on the island of Jura and drive 18 miles to Ardlussa over the worst roads I’ve been on yet. At Ardlussa a surprise awaited: visitors can use a small walkie-talkie to send their order to a house about 400 yards away and the lady will bring out your order of tea and you can sit on the beach to drink it. In this weather I can think of nothing nicer.

    Thursday 28 April
    Leafleting in Islay, particularly Port Ellen which we had not done during our previous visit. Then drove to Portnahaven and spoke to another postmaster who has a problem with planning. Back to Port Charlotte and visited the Museum of Islay Life and the local café.

    Then back to Bowmore for the evening’s hustings at the High School. Mr Russell does his usual and tries to blame the school closures on me; he doesn’t get away with it this time. His infamous email was quoted from and his interference as education minister with council business was commented on. He is behaving outrageously and keeps denying he said eight or nine schools “could be taken through with little difficulty”.

    Why the people of Argyll and Bute believe the SNP wouldn’t close schools if it didn’t happen to be election time is a mystery.

    Friday 29 April
    On the ferry back to Kennacraig, then leafleting in Tarbert. Tomorrow is a walkabout in Dunoon. Only four more working days to go to “E-Day”.

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    Patrick Harvie and Alison Johnstone <em>Picture: Stan Blackley</em>

    Patrick Harvie and Alison Johnstone Picture: Stan Blackley

    By Patrick Harvie

    The parties bidding for your vote on Thursday have all made their case now, and it’s too late for any more relaunches. From my admittedly partisan perspective, the two key dividing-lines are ambition and honesty.

    The Tories have set out an unambitious manifesto, a programme for Scotland which would ensure we stick closely to David Cameron’s ideological agenda. They would squeeze our public services and expose them even further to market forces, and they’re the only party promising new charges for students.

    But theirs is at least an honest and intellectually consistent position, despite the grave economic ignorance it displays and the social fallout that would follow. If you’re not prepared to raise revenue, then handing on the cuts is the realistic outcome.

    The Lib Dems have failed both tests, perhaps unsurprisingly. They’ve run a campaign on just two policies. First, they claim to be the only party opposing a national police force, despite knowing fine well that it is Scottish Green policy too. It’s a real issue, which is why we share their concerns, but a dispute over the way in which police services are administered is hardly the stuff of inspirational campaigns.

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    Their second claim is that by selling off Scottish Water’s debt we can enjoy a one-off cash bonanza sufficient to fund the rest of their pledges, such as free higher education. To sell off a public asset so we can remortgage its debt is a bizarre line to take just now, just as we’re starting to come out of a major economic downturn caused by this kind of debt-fuelled speculation. The logical conclusion of this wheeze is that the more in debt one public body is to another, the better off we’d all be.

    To top it all, we’ve seen yet more posturing in front of threatened post offices, while the UK government presses ahead with privatisation plans for Royal Mail. During this campaign, the Lib Dems have been both timid and dishonest with the electorate, although it is possible to find a shred of sympathy for Tavish Scott’s situation. It can’t be pleasant to have your credibility and an entire election undermined by decisions taken by colleagues elsewhere, decisions he undoubtedly had no say over.

    Despite their floundering campaign, which appears to centre on the idea that you’ll get stabbed if the SNP win, Labour’s manifesto can still be seen as ambitious in the context of Scotland’s budget pressures. Like the SNP, they’re promising a tax cut for the better off in the shape of a council tax freeze. Like the SNP, they’re promising free higher education. Like the SNP they’re making promises about protecting public services.

    The trouble is that these are fundamentally dishonest positions for parties who want to lead a Scottish government as their budgets get cut. The SNP’s magic money is a supposed underspend on an unnecessary bridge, work on which has not yet begun – and hopefully never will.

    For their part, Labour are relying on the classic sleight of hand for the modern politician – non-specific efficiency savings. There are certainly inefficiencies in the public sector, but no one has yet found a good way of making savings that don’t diminish frontline services or squeeze the terms and conditions of public sector staff.

    As Glasgow University’s Centre for Public Policy for Regions points out, “this apparent refusal to accept the reality that faces the next Scottish government” means “voters are denied a real choice”.

    As you might expect, I believe the Greens are the only party setting out an ambitious programme and being honest about how it would be paid for. Despite the frustratingly limited powers of the Scottish parliament, Holyrood can replace council tax and business rates with something both fairer and capable of plugging substantial gaps in the public finances.

    Our Land Value Tax plan would cut tax bills for more than 85 per cent of Scots households, with only those currently in the top three council tax bands paying more. The same change would close some serious tax loopholes, bringing in vacant commercial property and derelict land into the tax system for the first time. It’s only fair – these are commercial assets, and the current approach is a financial incentive to continue land-banking and leave unproductive gap sites in our towns and cities.

    That’s our honesty. And here’s our ambition. Rather than token and short-term efforts on insulation, as proposed by other parties, we’d use the money to fund a comprehensive national insulation scheme to cut bills, boost jobs, and tackle both climate change and fuel poverty.

    We’d reverse the cuts to local authority services set out in the last SNP budget, a move which would directly benefit not just public sector staff but also everyone who relies on those local services. And unlike Labour, the SNP or the Lib Dems, we know how we’d keep funding free higher education, as well as reversing the revenue cuts to further education too.

    By turning Scotland’s transport policy around, we plan to save billions from motorway schemes that can be better spent on improving public transport and keeping fares down. We’d also start the most substantial house-building programme in decades to help tackle homelessness and help people on lower incomes get their own place too. We’d go beyond the current debate about percentage targets for green energy, and invest in public and community ownership to make sure that a share of the eyewatering profits about to made from renewables are kept for the public good.

    This is a crucial election. It’s about more than who hides from whom in a supermarket, or who’s got the most bankers and tax exiles backing them. It will set Scotland’s future for far longer than just this five-year term.

    No one has ever got an overall majority at Holyrood, and I can’t see that changing on Thursday. If you want a government to make deeper cuts, then you should hope for the Tories to end up holding the balance of power. If you want a strong parliament, pushing the next Scottish government to be both more ambitious and more honest with the public, a second vote for the Greens is the only alternative.

    Patrick Harvie is the co-convenor of the Scottish Greens, and is a regional list candidate in the Glasgow region on 5 May.

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    Taxes and opinion polls dominated the political chatter yesterday, as the final poll results were published, the leaders debated on STV, and Labour and the Conservatives attacked the SNP’s plan to fund Scottish independence.

    Our penultimate word cloud showing the hot topics of the day in yesterday's political press releases. Common non-policy words were removed, the bigger the word, the more it appreared.

    Our final word cloud showing the hot topics of the day in yesterday's political press releases. Common non-policy words were removed, the bigger the word, the more it appreared.

    Our cloud shows tax, council, independence and percent, received high usage as the Scottish Conservatives said that only they can protect Scotland from “dangerous and costly excesses of nationalism”, and claimed the SNP’s plans to take Scotland out of Britain could mean a basic rate taxpayer paying almost half their earnings in tax.

    Commenting on figures published in yesterday’s Daily Mail, Annabel Goldie, Scottish Conservative leader, said:

    “Alex Salmond would turn Scotland into the highest taxed part of Britain. His dangerous plans to rip Scotland out of the UK would hammer hard working Scots, rip our country apart and decimate our economy.

    “The Scottish Government’s own figures show that separation means up to a 12p hike on income tax, pushing the basic rate to 32p.

    “Added to the SNP’s madcap plans to introduce a local income tax – which the report they tried to cover up said would be 4.6p – and then national insurance contributions on top of that, then it is clear the bill for divorce from the UK would cripple basic rate taxpayers in Scotland.”

    Labour’s finance spokesperson, Andy Kerr, said of the report:

    “This is a damning reminder of the SNP’s economic madness but we cannot forget that Alex Salmond is using the courts to hide his tax plans from the Scottish public.

    “On the big economic decisions, the SNP have called it wrong time and time again and the financial crisis showed how flawed the SNP’s economic approach is. The choice in this election is between two visions for Scotland – Labour’s plan for jobs or the SNP’s plan for independence.”

    The SNP laughed off this figure, claiming it was based upon an out-of-date figure of £3.8 billion in the 2010 Government Expenditure & Revenue Scotland (GERS) report.

    The Tories and Labour use the £3.8 billion figure, which also reflects capital investment, to claim an income tax rise of 12 pence in Scotland. They then add to this the existing basic rate of income tax of 20p, national insurance contributions of 12p, and the rumoured 4.6p local income tax figure.

    An SNP spokesperson said:

    “The Tory figures are unutterable garbage – an embarrassing effort from an embarrassing party.

    “On the basis of the Tories’ absurd figures, the UK basic rate of income tax would be 63 per cent, and the higher rate would be 83 per cent. And that is before the plans of the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems for a real increase in the real council tax of between £200 and £300.

    “Labour’s panic and desperation in this campaign is revealed by the fact that they are actually recycling this Tory garbage – another example of the unholy Labour/Tory alliance.”

    People, greens, and votes are the next most prominent in the cloud with the final poll results released and the final televised leadership debate airing last night on STV – both boosting the occurrences of percent along with the taxation debate.

    The Scottish Greens launched a final push for the Holyrood election, urging Scots to give the party their second votes on Thursday.

    Patrick Harvie said:

    “While others have run campaigns based on fear and empty promises, Greens have set out a consistently practical and positive programme for the next parliament. Our campaign has made cast-iron promises on keeping tuition free, on insulating every home in Scotland, and bringing in fairer taxes to cut household bills for most Scots and to invest in our essential public services. The polls suggest that more and more Scots are planning to give their second votes to their local Green candidates on Thursday, and we could be on the brink of winning seats in every region.

    Elaborating on the importance of the second vote, he added:

    “The second vote is vital. It might not tell you who governs Scotland. But it’ll certainly tell you who they have to govern with. That can only mean one of the coalition parties or the Greens. If you want a Scottish parliament that builds a positive alternative to the coalition’s ideological cuts agenda, only a second vote for the Greens can deliver it.”

    Yesterday’s TNS-BRMB poll for STV – released to coincide with the final televised debate – shows the Scottish Greens up from 5 per cent to 8 per cent on the regional list, the best result yet for the party during the 2011 election campaign.

    The SNP also welcomed the poll which shows them ahead of Labour in the constituency vote by 18 points. Scottish National Party depute leader and deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon said:

    “This is an excellent poll – it indicates that people want to re-elect the SNP government and Alex Salmond for first minister because they want to achieve the five-year council tax freeze, protection for Scotland’s health budget, and retention of the 1,000 additional police officers that the SNP have delivered.

    Emphasising caution against complacency, she added:

    “We are taking nothing for granted. People support our record, team and vision for Scotland – many for the first time – and we will work harder than ever before to achieve the re-election of the SNP Government and Alex Salmond for first minister on Thursday.”

    Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Johann Lamont said:

    “With over half of all voters undecided how they will vote, this poll show it is all to play for.

    “The SNP are arrogantly slapping themselves on the back before a single vote has been cast, but the only poll that matters is polling day and every hour between now and polling day Labour will be fighting for every vote.”

    Whereas Liberal Democrat campaign chair George Lyon reflected on his party’s poor scoring – they came in 4th behind the Conservatives – saying:

    “Pundits are always interested in polls ahead of elections. What Liberal Democrats are focused on is the poll on 5 May.”

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    Iain Gray

    Iain Gray

    Iain Gray tried his best to fight back both against the SNP and against further appalling poll news in the last of the televised debates tonight.

    But the Scottish Labour leader ultimately found himself harried to such an extent, both by his political opponents and by a feisty Glasgow audience, that he was unable to claw back any of the ground his party has already lost through the campaign.

    None of the leaders emerged as the clear winner of the debate. Tavish Scott, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, gave his best performance of the campaign – possibly because he has become so resigned to doing badly that he has relaxed enough to enjoy it.

    Annabel Goldie, the Scottish Conservative leader, did not quite make the impression she has done in previous debates, but was clear and decisive – while Alex Salmond was his solid, competent self without excelling and dominating the way his party managers had hoped he would.

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    But, as the clear leader going into this STV debate, Mr Salmond didn’t need to win: he only had to make sure no one would win and he would emerge ahead at the end – and that is what happened.

    All the leaders went into the debate on the back of the latest poll, this one by TNS-BMRB for STV, and it showed the Nationalists extending their lead over Labour with just one day’s campaigning left until polling day.

    According to the poll, the SNP are on 45 per cent in the constituency vote, a massive 18 points ahead of Labour on 27. The Tories are on 15, the Lib Dems on ten and the others on three.

    In the regional list vote, the SNP are on 38 per cent, 13 ahead of Labour on 25 with the Tories on 16, the Lib Dems on nine, the Greens on eight and others on four.

    Translated into seats, this would give the SNP 61 seats to Labour’s 32 with the Tories 18, the Lib Dems nine, the Greens eight and the others one.

    Each of the leaders was asked to react to the poll and all Mr Gray could do was stress the usual politician’s mantra that “the only poll that counts” is the one on Thursday. But it sounded weak and Mr Gray – understandably – sounded battered by the constant bad news.

    There was more to come when the debate started.

    Mr Gray found himself on the back foot right from the off when he was set upon by the first two questioners. The first said he had been a victim of knife crime, that he had written to Mr Gray’s office, but had not received a response.

    The second tore into all the unionist parties who had voted against minimum pricing for alcohol, but reserved most of the criticism for Mr Gray, demanding: “How you could have voted against minimum pricing when it is the major Scottish problem is beyond belief.

    “What planet are you living on?” he demanded.

    Mr Gray came back quickly to apologise to the crime victim: “If you have written to my office and I have not replied, I apologise for that. It would be extremely unusual.”

    But, by then, the damage had been done.

    Mr Gray did rally by coming up with good, strong answers on modern apprenticeships, but Mr Salmond was also solidly competent on that issue, preventing Mr Gray from edging ahead.

    Miss Goldie showed her experience in always remembering the questioner’s name and referring to them directly. She also made it clear that she would keep stressing the core message she wanted to get across.

    Time and again, almost regardless of the question, she replied: “That is the core issue here: we have to grow the economy.”

    It was clear that Miss Goldie was aware of what would appeal to her party’s traditional base and the debate presented her with the last real opportunity to appeal to that audience.

    Not for the first time, Mr Scott found it difficult to fight his way into the centre-left ground occupied by Mr Salmond and Mr Gray, but he found his voice on the independence referendum issue.

    At first, it appeared as if the Scottish Lib Dem leader was about to endorse an independence referendum, talking about how the ground had shifted and how the SNP appeared to be heading for victory.

    But he changed tack at the last moment and told the audience that they should realise they would get independence if they continued to back the SNP. But if they wanted something different, they should vote for the Lib Dems.

    Mr Scott then turned on Mr Salmond, accused him of being “wily” and added: “He will cook up the question [on the referendum], he will cook up the timing and he will probably cook up the result as well.”

    STV’s questionmaster Bernard Ponsonby missed a trick by not hauling Mr Scott up on the AV referendum. Why, he should have asked, have the Lib Dems driven through a referendum on something no party actually believes in, but the party is opposing a referendum on independence?

    This was the point made by Mr Salmond. The SNP leader was well rehearsed on this subject but he made his case well and convincingly.

    But Mr Ponsonby did at least spend time focusing on the key issue of the financing of public services and the claims made by most of the parties that they could keep most services without making cuts just by saving money through efficiency savings.

    It was then that Mr Salmond found himself on the wrong side of an audience member. A nurse from Greater Glasgow and Clyde tore into the first minister over his claim that he would protect the health service from cuts.

    She claimed student nurses couldn’t get jobs, that nurses weren’t being replaced and that beds were being closed because of the Scottish government’s management of the service.

    “That’s not protection, that’s the annihilation of the service,” she said.

    By this time, the audience had heckled both Mr Gray and Mr Salmond, giving them both an equally rough time as the partisan members of the audience reacted to the comments of the leader they didn’t like.

    If Mr Gray thought he had escaped from the audience’s attacks, he was wrong. Near the end, he got another curve ball, this time from a man who referred to Mr Gray’s embarrassing escape from anti-cuts protestors in Glasgow Central station at the start of the campaign by hiding in a sandwich shop.

    “Can Mr Gray recommend a sandwich and doesn’t he think a potential leader shouldn’t run away?”

    Rather than duck this, Mr Gray decided to take this challenge to his leadership credentials head on.

    “I have never run away from anything,” he said.

    And he added: “Leadership is important. I tell you this, anybody who thinks that I would not spend every waking minute of every day creating jobs and opportunities for young people simply doesn’t know me. It’s what I have done all my life and it is what I want to do for Scotland for the next five years. That is the leadership I offer.”

    It was a feisty reply to a difficult issue he could have ducked.

    Mr Gray ended up appearing battered and bruised, but combative and strong too. Mr Salmond was not given such a hard time and he appeared smooth and in control – if not as dominant as usual.

    Mr Scott did well and Miss Goldie forged her own path, as has now become something of a trademark for her.

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    Annabel Goldie <em>Picture: Alexford</em>

    Annabel Goldie Picture: Alexford

    Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie gave the most striking and successful performance last night in what was a closely fought and fairly even leaders’ debate on the BBC.

    Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray was much better than he had been during the opening debate, right back at the start of the campaign.

    But even though Mr Gray was solid, competent and managed to score a couple of good points off Alex Salmond, he didn’t do enough to really raise himself up to or beyond the first minister’s level.

    That was what he had to do to put Labour in the lead ahead of Thursday’s poll – and, although markedly better than before, he didn’t quite manage to do that.

    Mr Salmond, the SNP leader, was as professional and composed as ever and although he didn’t win many of the exchanges, he won those that mattered to him: making a big impression with his arguments on independence and sectarianism.

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    Tavish Scott, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, also performed better than in the first debate, but again found himself sidelined, both by the presence of the two candidates vying for the first minister’s job and then by Miss Goldie, who managed to elbow her way in to the debate in a way that Mr Scott couldn’t quite manage.

    Once again, Miss Goldie’s more individual stance – of opposing universal benefits and arguing that students contribute to their own education – set her apart from the others.

    But it was her waspish one-liners – at one point she implored the audience to make sure someone had the next first minister by the “short and curlies – that gave her a slight edge over her rivals.

    All the party leaders finished close to each other, but, on performance, the order was first, Miss Goldie, second, Mr Salmond, third, Mr Gray and fourth, Mr Scott.

    Overall, this was a much better debate than the first, which had been broadcast by STV. Glenn Campbell, the host, went straight to the key issues of the campaign.

    The first question raised the issue of universal benefits and why a 60-year-old earning £40,000 a year should get a free bus pass.

    Both Mr Salmond and Mr Gray were used to simply championing the rights of universal benefits, but now they had to justify them.

    Mr Salmond warned of the costs of means testing, which was a valid point and a better answer than Mr Gray managed.

    Both Miss Goldie and Mr Scott did better – particularly Miss Goldie, who remembered to talk to the questioner from the audience directly and to use her first name, and she finished with her main message of the evening.

    “We have to consider what we can afford and what we cannot afford,” she said.

    Mr Gray and Mr Salmond then got into difficulties with the next question, about job losses in the public sector. Both talked about pay restraint, but both were hazy and appeared unused to having to justify the promises made in their manifestos.

    It was then, though, that the debate sparked into life with Mr Gray deciding to take on Mr Salmond directly. The Scottish Labour leader challenged Mr Salmond over his claim that more teachers had been employed under the SNP government.

    Mr Gray was cheered when he claimed this to be untrue. Mr Salmond parried by arguing that most of the teachers had been lost by Labour-controlled councils, but the point had been made – and won – by Mr Gray.

    Miss Goldie tried to set herself apart from the spat between the men in suits, appealing: “Who is going to get them under control, grabbing them by the short and curlies?”

    The Conservative leader then took a more serious line, admitting that she could not protect every public sector job and then astutely broadening the debate out by reminding everybody that the public sector wasn’t the only part of the economy that was having trouble, that there was a big private sector out there too and it also had to be nurtured and protected.

    Mr Scott found himself put into an uncomfortable position when asked bluntly if he would “do a Nick Clegg” and break his promises if he got a “whiff of power”.

    “No,” replied Mr Scott, which was as wise and as decent an answer as he could give, in the circumstances.

    Miss Goldie again showed that she wasn’t afraid to duck the big issues when sticking to her unpopular approach to higher education, arguing that it was not realistic to promise “free education” as the others were doing.

    She was applauded by a sizeable group within the audience too, for saying it, which suggests there may not be the unanimity around this issue that the other parties think there is.

    And, in the line which may resonate more with voters than any other, she warned – wagging a finger at the three men alongside her – “You are going to see a lot of humble pie being eaten big-time by these three in years to come.”

    Of the others, Mr Salmond was the most cogent and convincing in his response, arguing passionately that “free education is at the heart of the Scottish tradition in education”.

    With neither Mr Scott nor Mr Gray convincing on this subject, the dividing line was clear – practical warnings over cost from Miss Goldie versus a declaration of principle from Mr Salmond.

    That was really the main theme of this debate. As the subjects moved from renewables to independence, Miss Goldie took a down-to-earth approach, warning of the costs involved and urging realistic (and sometimes uncomfortable) solutions to them, while Mr Salmond urged the audience to consider the wider, more theoretical and principled implications.

    As a result, there appeared to be a clear ideological drive behind the first minister’s answers, while Miss Goldie appeared to give the most rational responses – guided at all times but the financial realities of Scotland’s position.

    Mr Gray and Mr Scott kept in the hunt, but neither managed to assert themselves above this now-dominant narrative.

    The final question offered the leaders the chance to make a witty and lasting impression. Asked what the title of their autobiography would be, the three men could only come up with lame responses.

    Mr Salmond talked about winning re-election, for Mr Gray it was “jobs, jobs jobs” (which is slightly ironic as he may have a new job in the not-too-distant future if Labour loses heavily on Thursday) and Mr Scott rambled on about “an island life” and his home on Shetland.

    Miss Goldie did have more thinking time than the others, but her response that it was “always good to kick a politician’s posterior” had the merit of being the only vaguely and witty response of the four.

    It showed that Miss Goldie has the (limited) ability to think on her feet while the others merely repeated a version of a campaign slogan.

    If she hadn’t already edged the debate by then, she would have done so anyway with her final answer.

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